value the brain & cut the priviledge
AJ is a nonbinary trans-masculine human who used to write under the pen name A.R. Jardine. They write apologies and excuses but have been known to dabble in fiction, interviews, and personal essays.
In 2014, AJ was accepted into the fiction cohort at the Banff Centre Writing Studio.
In 2011, AJ earned an MFA in Writing from the University of Victoria and they are currently working on a PhD in feminist media studies, digital culture, and queer theory (UNB).
They spend their days advocating and activist-ing for their fellow queers.
Be sure to watch the VICE documentary they recently hosted and co-produced, On Hold, which is about Canadian transgender healthcare access.
an excerpt from Trans Canada (My Way)
I’ve had a pesky mass in my breast for two years. My family doctor recently suggested that I speak to a surgeon about having it removed.
My friend and I walk through the revolving door of Everett Chalmers hospital. A small boy holds his father’s hand five paces ahead. The white yellow florescent light splashes our skin, soaking everything from strangers in suits, medical equipment, and buzzing nurses between us and the gift shop.
“I’m here for the breast clinic,” I say.
The hospital circulation desk dude immediately looks to my feminine friend on my right side.
There is a pause. Inside of this pause, he assumes I’m speaking for my female friend- the person with visible breasts. She assumes that he assumes she’s the one who wants the appointment. She doesn’t explain. She wants him to figure this out. He scratches his beard. I assume we will get out of this moment in a second. Unharmed. We do. He clues it together.
“Head down the hall to admitting. They’ll set you up from there,” he says, this time directly at me.
Alignment has been on my mind these past few days. It started when the SUV I rented made a clunking noise when I turned left out of the rental lot where I’d insisted, only seconds before, that my Mastercard had car insurance (which I wasn’t sure it did).
There are cultural fictions that we tell ourselves make sense because we recognize them again and again. One of these is that bodies do body-ing things clearly, and that these actions align with a history of bodies and therefore must be real. They must be the truth.
A switch has been flipped. For those who don’t already know me in Fredericton, I now pass as a man more than a woman (I’d say it’s 70/30). People look at my body–wide and strong shoulders, a Bieber haircut, hairy legs, and now facial stubble. The timbre of my deep voice lulls them comfortably into this gender narrative. These cues make other facts harder to see (such as my larger than average bound chest, my skinny wrists, and small feet and hands).
Passing is defined as a person’s ability to be perceived as either a cisgender man or a cisgender woman at a glance. Passing is a very rich topic that we will return to often throughout my entries. For now, I’ll say that I recently read a passage that describes some of the criticisms trans people receive for trying/wanting to pass. It’s said that we’re at fault for attempting to fit into the gender binary. As an alternative to this essentialist thinking, Sullivan suggests: “However, rather than simply accusing transsexuals of being dupes or unthinking agents of heteronormativity, it may be more productive to think about the ways in which transsexuals, like everyone else, are both agents and effects of the world in which they live” (107).
I’ll be honest, I’ve felt more relieved this past week than I have in my last thirty years. I’ve felt the most me. I’ve also felt safer in the mens washroom. I’ve felt stared at less. Despite these facts, I’m still wary and critical of passing because like Sandy Stone and many theorists eloquently explain, passing doesn’t make a lot of room for other possible identities and categories or for a mixing of genders. In some ways, it reinforces the alignment I spoke of earlier. It encourages us to believe the story that people exist on the left or right, as man or woman. Unproblematically. Unambiguously. I’m telling you this because there are times when my passing is still a problem. One of these instances is when my history is unintelligible.
I’m at the library picking up a book about queer youth and media cultures. The librarian has waited on me a hundred times. Her salt and pepper hair and thick black glasses are familiar. It’s been a month or so since her shift has aligned with my regular visits. She doesn’t recognize me despite our countless interactions. I tell her that I’ve forgotten my student ID. She asks that I provide another piece. I slide my license across the speckled counter.
There isn’t a pause this time. There isn’t the tension of thoughts at work. There isn’t a second between her glancing at the plastic face and lifting her eyes to me before uttering, confidently, and loudly enough for her colleague to hear:
“That’s not you.”
I attempt a chuckle. It’s not the first time that my body didn’t body in a way that people could align it with the identity or gender I was professing to be.
“It is me. I’m transgender.”
Here’s an interesting place where passing becomes irrelevant, where the need for transgender or a border identity is not only desirable but a necessity. My history is not erased easily and I wouldn’t want it to be. My name change documents, my desire for top surgery, my life before my decision to transition is still catching up. It may always be.
“But your hair,” she says, illogically, before turning to retrieve the book.
Her colleague speaks up in her absence and in the absence of an apology: “You have to understand changing the hair is confusing.”
I wish that my hair was the only source of confusion, but I’m not entirely sure they understood what transgender meant when I said it. We need to start dialogues around what it means to be transgender because 30 per cent of the time I do not pass as male. Or 60+ per cent of the time, my life has not caught up with my identity. My hair is long in photos, for example, or a nurse might call “Amanda” into a packed waiting room and I will inevitably blush, rising to my feet.
We need to start these conversations because there are countless people who never pass. And one hundred per cent of the time they will wait inside pauses, fighting to be recognized for who they are.
A man at the bar orders a vodka soda. He is almost seven feet tall, over two hundred and fifty pounds. His eyes fixate on my crotch. I can tell he’s investigating the size of my feet. His friend orders a rum and coke, tips me well, and calls me “bud.” I get this a lot from men that align me as male- “bud,” “pal,” “man,” and “bro.”
I see The Giant whisper something to his friend. He knows I’m transgender. Maybe he knew me before. Whatever he whispers sours his friend’s face. The tips stop. The “bud”s end. The icy glances want to unnerve me. They will not.
A group of gorgeous and lovely humans approach the bar. They spend the night next to me. They are Amazon warriors, protecting me from inside their armour of stilettos and summer dresses. They order shots and keep me laughing. They tell me I’m cute and that I belong in a bigger city. They say this because my pink lemonade shot was apparently the best they’ve ever tasted, but I think they might also recognize a wildness in my eyes.
As much as I try to fight it, the truth is, this city is exactly where I belong. This is the place that needs catching up. And these people are worthy of catching up. For every shitty experience at the library, or every death stare from an investment banker with a boatload of white privilege, there is a group of open-minded potential-friends that crave connection and could care less about the bodily specifics.
Now is the time to recognize that identities exist like constellations. Alignment is predetermined, and ought to be re-routed and considered in countless formations. We need to show that the borders between these sex and gender categories are permeable and unfixed. We’re all passing as things. We’re all performing various roles and sending out cues so that people align us with the things that most closely capture who we feel we are in this moment. And in the next one. In this fertile ground of imagination at work, we can understand space and time as negotiations. Here, life will become wider. Fuller.
I’m asking you to spend the energy you might spend interpreting gender or sex to do something more radical. Everyone benefits from being unfixed from the square mileage of who they’ve always been. Small town folks understand this the most.
(Writer AJ Ripley)